While Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential run has yet to be made official, the expected Democratic frontrunner has still been the beneficiary of the numerous political action committees that have become a staple of election season.
One of the earliest Clinton supporting PACs, the Ready For Hillary PAC, created in 2013 by former Clinton staffer Adam Parkhomenko and former George Washington University professor Allida Black, made its mark in Tampa Tuesday night with a fundraising reception at Mise En Place in downtown Tampa.
The evening brought together some of the area's most well known Democrats, including State Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, who was joined by Florida Democratic Party Vice Chairman Alan Clendenin, former Tampa mayor Sandy Freedman, Hillsborough County Clerk of Circuit Court Pat Frank, former Governor Charlie Crist and State Representative Ed Narain. Also in attendance were former University of South Florida president Betty Castor, County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, former state CFO Alex Sink and Hillsborough County Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Belcher, among others.
“We all know that we're here for one purpose. When she steps out and allows us we'll be here to fire up the troops and get out the people to the ground, cause we're good at doing this here,” said Joyner as she opened the festivities to a packed crowd.
The sheer amount of Democratic luminaries in attendance, with the notable absence of the city's most well-known Democrat, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, keeps in line with the national perception of Clinton as the ascendant Democratic candidate.
“I was in Washington the past week and somebody was talking to me about the presidential race,” said Clendenin, “the excitement that's building across the country and what we're seeing here in this room is happening in all 50 states who are ready to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States.”
However, it could be said that Clinton was in a similar position eight years ago. Clendenin was unconcerned with any risk of what he described as "Hillary fatigue" creeping in.
“I can tell you right now that every time you see an event like this there's not fatigue, there's anxiousness. We want her to be President and we want her to be president now!”
With no announced candidates for the Democratic nomination and Clinton's status as the presumptive frontrunner, most of the political barbs were aimed at the Republicans' own unannounced candidate but presumed frontrunner Jeb Bush, who coincidentally was benefitting from a fundraiser held by his Right to Rise Super PAC at the same time at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, minutes away.
Freedman pointed to the difference in the price of admission as the most clear contrast of the candidates still-hypothetical campaigns. Admission for the Clinton event was $20.16, because that's the year of the presidential election, while Bush's event requested $1,000.
“Five miles down the road they're being asked to contribute $1,000 for the Republican that might be running from this state, that's the difference," Clendenin said. "This is going to be about the people, that's going to be about a lot of money.”
The highlight of the evening was Charlie Crist's surprising appearance midway through.
“Hold on, is that Charlie Crist in the house?” said Joyner as she stopped midway through the introduction of Ready for Hillary PAC Southern Deputy Regional Organizer Kareem Absolu. Crist was greeted by uproarious applause and chants for a speech. Crist briefly addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support in 2014 and emphasizing the need for strong organization of support in 2016.
“We came very close and it wouldn't have been that close without you. When you go up against 150 million dollars it's tough, but that's why it's important now to be organized for '16. There's somebody else in the Tampa Bay area tonight raising a bit of money, they're saying he might have $100 million by the end of March. Florida continues to change and get more blue by the day. Democrats are going to have our day and it's going to be soon. That's why your impact is so important.”
An audience member responded with the apt political catchphrase in “Demographics for Democrats!”
While the event was a success, the most closely associated person with the PAC, Southern Deputy Regional Organizer Kareem Absolu, made it clear that nights like these are only a first step, with a focus on organizing and the traditional methods of campaigning such as phone banking and knocking on doors will be required in the coming months. Absolu also emphasized a need to bring younger Democrats into the establishment fold, of which there was a noticeable lack Tuesday.